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Three arrested in Paris over 'devil's breath' drug that turns victims into willing 'zombies'

From The Telegraph (UK):

Police have seized two Chinese women and a man in Paris suspected of using a powerful Colombian drug dubbed "the devil’s breath" that turns victims into “zombies” devoid of free will and rob them.

It is thought the three are part of an international Triad-style criminal gang running a multimillion-pound operation around the planet.

The women, aged 42 and 59, approached strangers in Paris’ 20th arrondissement and blew the substance into their faces. It is thought to contain scopolamine, a hazardous drug extracted from a South American tree related to deadly nightshade.

In strong doses it is lethal.

Paris’ judicial police believe the Chinese suspects administered the substance on “dozens” of victims in the French capital in the first reported case of such crimes.

"They managed to isolate their victims, then got them to breathe in a mixture of plants on the grounds they had powerful curative qualities – even protecting them from misfortune.”

Once they inhaled, all the victims recounted falling into a kind of “hypnotic state under the total sway of their handlers,” said the investigative source.

“They then took advantage by getting the victims to take them to their home, where they asked them to put all their jewellery and money into a bag and hand it over to them.”

Scopolamine is made from the seeds of a tree called Borrachero – roughly translated as “drunken binge” – which blooms with deceptively beautiful white and yellow flowers. It is mainly produced in Colombia via a chemical process that results in a white powder resembling cocaine.

Daily marijuana use among U.S. college students highest since 1980

From Michigan News:

Daily marijuana use among the nation's college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014.

A series of national surveys of U.S. college students, as part of the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study, shows that marijuana use has been growing slowly on the nation's campuses since 2006.

Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014—the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete college data were available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007. In other words, one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days.

Other measures of marijuana use have also shown an increase: The percent using marijuana once or more in the prior 30 days rose from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2014. Use in the prior 12 months rose from 30 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2014. Both of these measures leveled in 2014.

In addition, the use of synthetic marijuana (also called K-2 or spice) has been dropping sharply since its use was first measured in 2011. At that time, 7.4 percent of college students indicated having used synthetic marijuana in the prior 12 months; by 2014 the rate had fallen to just 0.9 percent, including a significant decline in use in 2014. One reason for the decline in synthetic drug use is that an increasing number of young people see it as dangerous.

Cigarette smoking continued to decline among the nation's college students in 2014, when 13 percent said they had smoked one or more cigarettes in the prior 30 days, down from 14 percent in 2013 and from the recent high of 31 percent in 1999—a decline of more than half. As for daily smoking, only 5 percent indicated smoking at that level, compared with 19 percent in 1999—a drop of nearly three fourths in the number of college students smoking daily.

Unfortunately, the appreciable declines in cigarette smoking have been accompanied by some increases in the use of other forms of tobacco or nicotine. Smoking tobacco using a hookah (a type of water pipe) in the prior 12 months rose substantially among college students, from 26 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2014.

In 2014, the use of e-cigarettes in the past 30 days stood at 9.7 percent, while use of flavored little cigars stood at 9.8 percent, of regular little cigars at 8.6 percent and of large cigars at 8.4 percent. The study will continue tracking the extent to which these alternate forms of tobacco use are changing in popularity, not only among college students, but also among their age peers not in college and among secondary school students.

Posted: 9/1/2015 3:38:00 PM

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Users Say the 'Smart Drug' Modafinil Is the New Adderall — Only Better

From Vice News:

In the not-so-dark corners of the internet, there are groups of people talking about a drug they've nicknamed "moda," but they're not taking it to have a good time. They're taking it to work better, be more focused, and stay awake.

Moda is short for modafinil, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat narcolepsy, and is sold in the US under the brand name Provigil. Some people are taking it off-label and without a prescription — having obtained the drug illegally — in the hopes of improving their cognitive abilities.

A review of 24 studies dating back to 1990 thrust the drug into the spotlight this month because it concluded that the drug does indeed improve cognition, but the researchers say their findings were more nuanced than headlines suggested.

Modafinil drawn comparisons to Adderall and Ritalin, which are FDA-approved amphetamines that are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some sleep disorders. All three drugs are popular among healthy people without these disorders who take them to study or work on big projects.

Unlike Adderall and Ritalin, modafinil doesn't come with a sense of euphoria. It's not thought to have the same potential for addiction and abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is why it's classified as a Schedule IV substance, while Adderall and Ritalin are listed in the more tightly restricted Schedule II category. Still, VICE News spoke to several "moda" users who purchase the drug illegally for non-medical use.

About 137,000 American college students start abusing prescription stimulants each year, according to a report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released last week. The report, which is based on an annual survey of 67,500 people, doesn't name specific stimulants, but peak usage occurred in November, December, and April — key times in the academic calendar. A smaller, less scientific survey published in The Tab, a British publication, estimated that one in five UK university students had used modafinil.

Posted: 9/1/2015 10:26:00 AM

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The science behind forensic toxicology

From Quartz:

When we get our blood tested for cholesterol, it doesn’t take long to get the results. And if someone turns up at the hospital with what looks like a drug overdose, doctors can perform a quick test to verify their suspicions before treatment.

But unlike popular crime series like CSI, in which investigators whip up test results in the span of a quick montage, most forensic toxicology reports take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This can be an excruciating wait after mysterious deaths and unsolved crimes. Why does it take so long?

Quartz spoke with Robert Middleberg, a toxicologist from NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, to find out.

Unlike other medical tests, where technicians isolate a specific compound like cholesterol, Middleberg says that you don’t always know what you’re looking for with forensic toxicology. “If you have a young person who is found dead in bed and there’s no history of drug abuse, you’re looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack,” he tells Quartz.

After a body is found and an autopsy is performed by a pathologist, a separate lab will look for any environmental or pharmaceutical toxins that could be the killers. Without any clear clues, Middleberg says they will start testing for about 400 different substances. “We never know what we’re going to get,” he notes. It takes creative intuition to guide a cycle of testing and interpreting the results of tests to inform further testing.

Once an initial analysis returns a match for a particular substance, toxicologists must gather more specifics for the official report. Bodies that have already started decaying produce some toxins naturally, like ethanol (another name for the alcohol we drink) and cyanide, so toxicologists may have to perform additional tests to determine whether these played an active role in the cause of death.

All of this is further complicated by the fact that samples often arrive in less than ideal conditions. “If somebody is pulled out of the water after being missing for two or three weeks, these samples are very, very bad,” Middleberg says.

Not every test is a complicated affair—despite all of the unknowns, Middleberg says that most labs try to have a turnaround time of 3-5 days for ruling things out and 7-10 days for identifying the specific factors leading to death.

Posted: 8/17/2015 7:54:00 AM

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Arthritis Drug May Help Eczema Patients, Too


A drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was effective in patients with moderate to severe eczema, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine. Study findings are published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology.

Study authors hypothesized that tofacitinib citrate, a janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor, could interrupt the immune response that causes eczema. Previous studies had shown that tofacitinib citrate reversed two skin conditions: vitiligo and alopecia areata.

Study findings suggest tofacitinib may be beneficial for the treatment of eczema. More research is needed to assess the drug's long-term efficacy and safety in patients with eczema.

Posted: 7/28/2015 2:41:00 PM

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Monsanto prevails in PCB lawsuit

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A St. Louis County jury has found that Monsanto is not liable in a series of deaths and illnesses suffered by people who were exposed to the PCBs manufactured by the company until the late 1970s.

The jury found in favor of the agriculture giant after a full day of deliberations Monday, according to a St. Louis County Circuit Court clerk. The trial, involving plaintiffs from around the country, took nearly a month.

The lawsuit, filed against Monsanto, Solutia, Pharmacia and Pfizer, sought relief for plaintiffs who developed lymphohematopoietic cancer after being exposed to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, made by Monsanto. The company was the primary U.S. manufacturer of PCBs from 1929 to 1977, according to the lawsuit. They were used in a range of products, including food packaging and paint, before being banned in the late 1970s.

“The jury found the evidence doesn’t support the assertion that Monsanto’s conduct or the historic use of PCB products was the cause of the plaintiffs’ harms,” the company said in a written statement that also made reference to a similar jury decision last year in California.

An attorney for the plaintiffs did not return a call seeking comment.

Posted: 7/28/2015 2:37:00 PM

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Legal Loophole Closed on Potent Designer Drug

From Courthouse News Service:

The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a final order Friday placing an extremely potent street drug on the schedule of controlled substances after dozens of deaths.

Acetyl fentanyl, which the agency says is 15.7 times more potent than morphine and up to five times more powerful than heroin, is particularly dangerous because the range between the effective dose and the lethal dose is narrow.

The Center of Disease Control issued an alert on acetyl fentanyl in June 2013, after 14 deaths in Rhode Island were attributed to the drug over a three month period.

A total of 39 known deaths have been reported in Rhode Island, North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration says it is likely that emergency room admissions and deaths due to this drug are under-reported because "standard immunoassays cannot differentiate acetyl fentanyl from fentanyl."

Other "clandestinely produced fentanyl-like substances, commonly known as designer drugs" have surfaced since the late 1970s and 1980s and been placed on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.

Due to the "imminent hazard to public safety," today's action by the DEA temporarily places the drug on Schedule 1 under the CSA, and it is effective immediately for up to two years, with a possible extension of one additional year, pending completion of the permanent scheduling process.

Posted: 7/20/2015 11:50:00 AM

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California scientists test Ecstasy as anxiety-reducer for gravely ill

From Reuters:

California scientists are testing whether the illegal psychoactive drug commonly known as Ecstasy could help alleviate anxiety for terminally ill patients, the trial's principal funder said on Tuesday.

At least a dozen subjects with life-threatening diseases like cancer, and who are expected to live at least 9 months, will participate in the double-blind trial over the next year in Santa Cruz, said Brad Burge, spokesman for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, in Santa Cruz.

Each subject will be randomly given either a full dose - 125 milligrams of MDMA, or an "active placebo" dose of 30 milligrams, Burge said.

Burge said the goal is to test whether gravely ill patients suffering from debilitating anxiety, fear or depression due to their diagnoses can find a measure of peace during the extended ecstasy-influenced psychotherapy sessions.

"Our hypothesis is that something is happening with MDMA that makes psychotherapy easier," Burge said.

Posted: 5/27/2015 9:34:00 AM

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New Webinar- “Flakka”: The Truth Behind the Latest Designer Drug Media Storm

From: NMS Labs

Donna Papsun, a forensic toxicologist at NMS Labs, will be hosting a free webinar on Flakka, the new dangerous designer drug that is taking the country by storm.  "Flakka” is the latest street name referring to alpha-pyrrolidinophenone (alpha PVP), a novel psychoactive substance that has been on the recreational drug market since 2012.  Former street names include “Gravel”, which was allegedly alpha PVP mixed with lorazepam, and “Bath Salts”, a catch-all term referring to a number of synthetic stimulants.  This webinar will focus on the toxicology of alpha PVP and highlight the prevalence of this drug by recreational users.  Although the abuse of alpha PVP is not new, it is certainly a designer drug trend that deserves the attention of public health authorities, law enforcement, medical examiners, and toxicology laboratories. 

Register today and learn more about Flakka, Alpha PVP, and other novel psychoative substances as well as how they are effecting the world of toxicology.  The webinar will be held Monday, June 1st at 1pm and will last roughly a half hour.  You can register for the free webinar here


Researchers document drug use among Ultra Music Festival attendees

From: Miami Herald

Fair or not, after 16 years Ultra Music Festival has developed a reputation not only as a cornucopia of lights and sounds, but also as a smorgasbord of psychotropic uppers and downers.  But according to a federally funded study, if you ask 100 audience members to pee in a cup in exchange for a $20 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, 80 just might test positive for drugs.

At least, researchers from the Center for Forensic Science Research & Education said that was their experience last year when they set up camp outside Bayfront Park and sought to document drug use among the thousands of ticket holders who flock to downtown Miami each year for three days of electronic dance music. The event typically sells more than 160,000 tickets.

Out of 145 voluntary participants, 72 percent admitted to having consumed marijuana, cocaine, molly or ecstasy during the past week. And for the 100-plus brave souls who went a step further and agreed to have their blood taken, or give a urine sample, researchers said they found that 58 percent and 80 percent, respectively, had recently consumed designer drugs.

The goal of the study, according to a summary of the results, was not to find out how many at Ultra are on drugs, but to get a better grasp of “some of the newly emerging and potentially dangerous new drugs popular in the [electronic dance music] community.”

“We found the participants at the event were very open with us about their knowledge of the drug scene and drug use,” said Barry Logan, the Pennsylvania-based center’s executive director. “We found a lot of the time what they thought they were taking was not what they were taking.”

Of the 104 urine samples, more than 80 percent tested positive for a synthetic drug, most commonly molly, followed by Alpha-PVP, a synthetic bath salt known as gravel, which ultimately killed 21-year-old Adonis Peña Escoto last year.

However, Logan said the survey was conducted with far too small a sample size — less than one tenth of a percent of the tickets sold for the festival — to be taken as any kind of statistical representation of the drug use at Ultra.

“A lot of people who read this assume it’s an indicator of prevalence, which I don’t think it is,” said Logan.

Now in its 16th year, Ultra is returning to downtown Miami in late March as an 18-and-older festival.

Read more here: